Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on February 2, 2014

Americans as a rule assume the mind is good-to-go, just as it comes out of the box. Asians, at least Buddhists, don't make that assumption. On the contrary, they assume that our current state of mind, including all of its mental suffering and chatter, are just the obvious consequences of an untrained mind.

Another way to say this is that if we have not learned to work with our instinctual reactions to attachments, positive or negative, we are by definition subject to whatever we react to, and that in perpetuity. In an attempt to manage our reactivity, more and more Americans are turning to meditation techniques, the most basic of which is Tranquility Meditation, the ability to simply concentrate and be mindful.

There are two general ways to learn concentration and mindfulness that I am aware of, by practice or effort and by interest and love. If we have a natural interest and love for something we automatically can concentrate and be mindful. There is no real effort or "trying" needed. We are just naturally rapt in our attention and concentration. That is the first method.

Lacking the natural interest and love for a subject, or because we have never been introduced to a subject, we have to make an effort to try and learn. We have to study and practice. This is what often happens in schools and career training, for example.

Most of us use the first method, love, for our hobbies, those things we just naturally love and attend to. On the other hand, those things we don't already have an affinity with, we have to study and go to school on, with all the attendant effort and problems of educating ourselves. This making of great efforts to learn is considered normal, but we might agree that it is not a path defined by what we love. We have to force ourselves.

The difference between these two methods of learning, love on the one hand and the need for effort and practice on the other is vast. Of course, we naturally would prefer to learn through love rather than have to make an effort to learn, so that should at least be a clue to how to approach dharma practice.

Since most of us have had years, perhaps decades, of schooling. We are used to having to study, make effort, and practice in order to learn. It does not occur to us to find a way to love learning when it comes to meditation. Equally, it never occurs to us to find something we love and learn meditation and mind training through it.

Tranquility meditation usually has an object of focus, a pebble, a twig, most often just the breath and breathing, and so on. The technique required to learn the concentration and mindfulness of Tranquility meditation can be applied to any object whatsoever, including a hobby or routine you already love that demands concentration and being mindful.

It could be anything: playing chess, tying flies, building model airplanes, carpentry, you-name-it -- whatever has a routine that demands mindfulness and focus, provided you really enjoy doing it. You already have learned the hard part, to perform the task or routine, and with interest or love.

All that remains is that you apply the technique used in Tranquility meditation to allow the mind to focus on the task and rest in that. After all, Zen Buddhists teach that anything we do can be done with focus and mindfulness. If we are not getting the results we would like from our efforts to learn Tranquility meditation sitting on a cushion, try doing the same thing with a subject already you already know and love. It works.